Off-centre | The future of communal politics: Name it accurately to overcome it

Ghoshamahal MLA and suspended BJP member T Raja Singh, apparently, tried to break double standards — and paid a heavy price

Makarand R Paranjape September 26, 2022 14:04:27 IST
Off-centre | The future of communal politics: Name it accurately to overcome it

Screengrab from BJP MLA T Raja Singh’s video. Twitter/ @TigerRajaSingh

This whole “Sar Tan Se Juda” series has been, in a nutshell, about plain speaking and truth telling. It is for us to introspect on why and how that is so hard for us Indians, especially Hindus, despite the age-old, Vedic injunction, Satya meva jayate. Truth alone triumphs. For us, though, through our terrible colonised interregnum, it is lies and hypocrisy that seemed to save us from even worse trauma or torture.

Hypocrisy “seemed” to save us in emergent situations. Perhaps. But when times are more conducive and favourable, it is incumbent upon us to face bitter truths. Else, hypocrisy may turn into a cultural, even civilisational, habit. A defeated and traumatised person or community often tends not only to resort to double speak, but also copes with a serious disassociation or schism of conflicting personalities. We must appear not to give offence to our captors or conquerors even though such double lives cause humiliation and cognitive dissonance.

In time, this becomes a settled habit — exonerating or making excuses for the aggressor; denying or airbrushing atrocities committed against one’s ancestors; whitewashing history or indulging in collective amnesia; praising and justifying the violence of the offenders; blaming and shaming the victims of history; and a variety of such mechanisms so as not to offend the fanatic or radical elements on the other side. It is this settled habit that Ghoshamahal MLA and suspended BJP member T Raja Singh, apparently, tried to break.

For this, he paid a heavy price. Removed from his party, he continues to be incarcerated in Cherlapally jail. His wife, Usha Bai, filed a petition in the Telangana High Court earlier this month for his release from preventive detention. She submitted that he was arrested to “appease a section” and that the case against him was based only on “surmises and conjectures.” Her petition underscored how Singh “had not mentioned any community or Prophet Mohammed.”

The court, however, granted no immediate relief to the petitioner, Usha Bai. Justice Shameem Akther and Justice EV Venugopal, who comprised the division bench, instead directed the Telangana state to file, within four weeks, their counter to the petition. In a balancing act, a case was also registered in August against Telangana Congress member Rashid Khan, who threatened on national TV, to burn down Goshamahal, if Singh was not arrested. So far, things have gone the way of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti, with both its BJP and Congress rivals in jail for their alleged communal remarks and hate speech.

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Now let us look at the original provocation that led to T Raja Singh’s outburst. It was the show of the stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui, despite the protests of many, on 21 August 2022. Just as I am not in favour of politicians indulging in incendiary or provocative statements, I am also not against comedians poking fun and raising a laugh at the expense of our settled beliefs. Indeed, I have written on several occasions earlier that we need to have a sense of humour, not being too thin skinned or taking every joke too seriously.

Yet, Faruqui’s still circulating videos in the public domain show him using four-letter expletives in supposedly funny sentences which also refer to Sri Rama and Ma Sita. Comedians abroad have a built-in mechanism or mannerism to suggest that they are not serious nor intend to give offence. In India, however, the craft of stand-up comedy is new. Not only do some comedians cross the line inadvertently, some, it would seem, actually intend to give offence.

Across India Sri Rama is widely revered as an avatar of Vishnu and his wife, Sita, as Goddess Lakshmi herself. The divine couple are worshipped in temples all over India and in millions of Hindu homes. Why didn’t Asaduddin Owaisi, the MIM supremo, condemn Faruqui “gustaqui” against Sri Rama and Ma Sita? Wouldn’t Hindu sentiments be pained by such irreverence? Instead, Faruqui, with government security, was allowed to perform in Hyderabad. Would Faruqui dare to make similar jokes or use similar four-letter words while referring to Prophet Mohammad? Obviously not. The only conclusion that stares us in the face is that he is a “communal” comedian, not an honest one.

Supposedly in retaliation, the former BJP MLA from Ghoshamahal, T Raja Singh, released a video criticising Faruqui three days after the latter’s show in the city. Singh also made another video, with a jokey emoticon as part of recording, which supposedly referred to Prophet Mohammad’s marriage to Ayesha. He later issued a clarification that he had not named any individual and that he was responding to a certain “comedian” who had insulted Hindu deities. He said that if you abuse other faiths, then you should also be prepared for a reaction.

After the furore over his videos, his suspension from BJP, and his arrest, I looked for the “objectionable” videos. As in the case of Nupur Sharma, however, his actual remarks are hard to find on the popular platform, YouTube, where they were posted. They have been removed for fear of causing offence. Those who are interested in this matter, must take the trouble to locate them elsewhere.

That is exactly what I did. After watching the video, I would, quite unequivocally, aver that, being an MLA and a responsible member of a leading political party, he could have refrained from posting it. Having said this, it is also necessary to clarify that he had indeed not named Prophet Mohammad in the video. What also needs to be stated quite clearly is that the supposed allusion in Raja’s video refers to an incident that is very much a part of Islamic scriptural tradition.

Those interested may refer to the Hadith of Sahih al-Bukhari, the compilation of the recorded sayings of Prophet Mohammad by Imam Muhammad al-Bukhari, which “is recognised by the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world to be the most authentic collection of reports of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad” (https://sunnah.com/bukhari).

[To be continued]

The author is a professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

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